Can Dreams Predict the Future?


Dreams are like unicorns, both vividly magical in a sense, yet non-existent, almost abstract in a way when faced with the eyes of reality. While dreaming, people are faced with some of their worst fears and gifted with things that only dreams can deliver. But with the sound of an alarm, a change of position or a tap on the shoulder, a person is awake, stuck in a moment of disbelief, trying to recall what just took place. Later one comes to realize that none of it made sense though, at the time, it seemed perfectly reasonable and realistic. Therefore, this paper investigates whether dreams can predict the future. The author carries out a literature review, then uses systematic review of scholarly articles to gather information which is later analyzed. Finally, the paper presents a conclusion to this discussion.

Literature Review

For centuries, humanity tried to decipher the meaning of dreams, and despite the advancement in science and technology, this is one area where humankind has been forced to come to terms with its limitations. To date, no one has explained or understood the process under which dreams occur and whether they can predict the future. For instance, in an attempt to establish whether dreams reveal a hidden meaning, Social Psychologists Carey Morewedge and Michael Norton conducted studies to establish how people respond to their dreams and they found that 68 % of the respondents believed that dreaming might predict their future (Morewedge & Norton,2009). However, Morewedge states that it is not the dream that predicts the future but a person’s firm belief in the dream which ultimately becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. In contrast, in a post dubbed, “Can Dreams Reveal Potential or Predict the Future?” on Huffpost, Dern (2011) states that some prophetic dreams predict the future irrespective of whether a person believes in them or not. In the article, Dern emphasizes that one should not dismiss the dreams they experience during the night as trivial since they may point to how things might play out in future (Dern,2011). This literature review reveals that previous studies are inconclusive on whether dreams can predict the future and therefore the need to investigate this topic.


This study uses a systematic review to collect data in which the researcher reviews previous theories seeking to explain the meaning of dreams as well as various case studies of instances where people have claimed that dreams predicted the future. This information will later be analyzed in the discussion section.

To start with, Sigmund Freud sought to explain the meaning of dreams through his work, The Interpretation of Dreams. In his theory, Freud argues that nothing occurs in life by chance and therefore every action or thought is motivated by the unconscious level (Freud, 2013). Most people hold back their urges and impulses to exist and live in a civilized society. He classified the mind into Id, Ego, and Superego. The Id is centered around primal impulses and desires; the ego is concerned with the rationality and self-awareness of the mind while superego is the censor for the Id hence enforcing moral codes into the ego (Freud, 2013). Through dreams, one can get a glimpse of the Id since the guards are down and the primal desires can express themselves. Freud referred to dreams as ‘the royal road’ since they point to some truth about one’s personality and the internal battle that go on in a person’s mind.

Secondly, Allan Hobson and Robert McCarley presented the activation-synthesis hypothesis in 1977 through which he sought to explain the meaning and purpose of dreams. According to Hobson &McCarley, dreams occour as a result of random firing of the pons during Rapid Eye Movement sleep, although more recent studies now suggest that dreams can also occur in other stages of sleep as well (Dern, 2011). The pons carry information from the cerebral cortex to the cerebellum and this data is then interpreted by the brain in forming a narrative that is familiar to the mind (Cartwright & Webb,2014). However, the activation-synthesis theory fails to explain why dreams contain aspects that seem to reflect one’s daily life and what is in their mind (Wiseman, 2011).

    Now, it is important to consider some case studies of instances where dreams predicted or were considered to predict the future. For instance, a fortnight before he was assassinated, President Abraham Lincoln about a funeral in the Whitehouse and when he enquired who was in the casket, a person standing next to him replied, “the president of the United States.” This dream came to pass when he gave his bodyguard a night off, and he was assassinated (America’s Library, 2013). Secondly, Mark Twain, a renowned writer had dreamt about his brother’s death before it happened. He had a vision of his brother’s corpse in his sister’s sitting room and after a few weeks, his brother died in an explosion hence the dream manifested (Wiseman, 2011). As well, following the mudslide that crushed a school in Aberfan, John Barker, a psychologist carried a study to establish whether any individual had a premonition regarding the incident (Cartwright & Webb,2014). Later, it emerged that one of the children who had died in the incident had dreamt that he could not attend school since it was covered in ‘black stuff.’


    The systematic review above reveals that dreams have a hidden meaning since they emanate from the sub-conscious level. The theories on the topic are such Freud’s theory on dreams which points out that dreams reveal our hidden desires and interests while Hobson &McCarley activation synthesis hypotheses hold that dream are a way for the brain to maintain proper functioning. As well, the inclusion of the case studies of Mark Twain and Abraham Lincoln points to a possibility that dreams might predict the future. Though there is no scientific evidence that dreams can predict the future, such a likelihood is not impossible.


    To sum up, the current theories on dreams indicate that dreams have a hidden meaning and it could be a biological or a philosophical one. This research is not conclusive on whether dreams can predict the future but it adds further information that could be used as a source of literature review for further studies on the topic. Though the debate on whether dreams can predict the future will not be settled soon, delving into this issue builds up the body of knowledge and takes humanity a step closer to understanding the coded meaning of dreams.

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